Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Strange but not really Stranger anymore, on Camus

Last night, on a lark, I plucked a Albert Camus' celebrated classic, THE STRANGER, off the bookshelf and read it through. It is a short novel, and a quick one to read. These days, it would likely be classed a novella, and combined with other things. It is such a pleasure, while reading so many very long things, to sit down and finish something in a sitting on a lark.

The story is simple enough. A man narrates the death of his mother, her funeral, and then the days afterwards where he ends up, in a manner not unlike washing ashore upon a hard stone, shoots an unnamed Arab gentleman on the beach repeatedly with a friend's gun.

The second part of the book is the trial from the prisoner's perspective, and subsequent incarceration, leading up to a presumed beheading.

The philosophy of the novel, if there is one, is a sort of Sartrean moment, and rejection of all faith and all society, except what parts of it are interesting to the accused. The simple pleasure of a swim on the beach, the love of a woman, and the fine meal with friends is all he desires. Anything that hampers that, including his own sickly mother, is an unpleasant thing, to be avoided. Send it away. Ship her off somewhere where people can look after her and she can live again.

Also, death comes. In death, in knowing death, and experiencing it hanging over an individual soul like a fresh tattoo, the beauty and wonder of the imagination and life flowers. The self cuts through the nonsense, beyond fear, driven by fear, and finds the true self for a while.

The book really seems to try too hard to be "ABOUT THE 20TH CENTURY!" and the MODERN TIMES. By stepping back and being so general, it loses the power that comes from great specificity, in such an interesting place and time, with such brutality and naked colonialism. The message of the absurd and the excessive condemnation of a society that seems to have created the monster it destroys is muted by the failure of the space to feel specific. All of the cosmos exists in single, precise gestures and lives. The alienation I felt was not indicative of the human condition, but indicative of a failure of an artist to provide ample support for their world.

My opinion is obviously not shared by the Nobel Prize Committee, or most of Academia, but we are allowed to disagree.

I may not agree with the book, but it is a thoughtful and relatively simple one to read. I did not like it as much as I liked THE PLAGUE. And, the narrator is absolutely horrible, and it is hard not to agree with his guilt, even if beheading the man is so extreme, and the trial is a farce. The narrator is cold, callous, and sociopathic, and has no issue in the slightest lying and taking advantage of others whenever it is easier to do so than not to do so. Whomever stands before him can convince him to do anything, agree with anything, with one exception: a priest. He couldn't care less about his own life, really, even on the brink of losing it. The only certain thing he holds onto his a nihilistic rejection of religion, and a full-throated embrace of objectification of women.

An interesting character-study, perhaps, but definitely not an enjoyable one.

Also, I felt like I was reading a lesser version of George Simenon's wonderful masterpiece, DIRTY SNOW. I would recommend that over Camus' STRANGER, instead. Many of the same ideas are present, including, alas, the misogynistic ones of the place and time, but they are fleshed out and made real with more depth and meaning, and the characters around the monster are allowed to be fully realized, and not just faces in the gallery around the accused, more mask and symbol than flesh and blood and bone.

So, skip the Stranger. Read Simenon.







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